Life continues to be a whirlwind, but I wanted to continue the series on my time in Cambodia. As I went back to read some of the journaling I did, the memories came in like a flood. I'm going to type out what I scribbled in my journal and then add photos with commentary at the end.
This would be our 2nd official ministry day, and it was as packed as the first. I actually didn't even finish writing about the first day, but I plan to incorporate some of those memories in a future post with a bit of a different theme. So, on with the next day according to my journal with a few little notes added in parenthesis...
"Friday, October 30th
My word for the day--overwhelmed. So tired. I feel numb and nauseous...drained. It's not as much physical tired as it is wiped out, though my legs have been throbbing in a funky way since the long airplane ride.
The day started out with "candy in a cup," Tony's word (our team leader). The hotel coffee tasted phenomenal, but how could extremely strong coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk be anything but wonderful? It sent us all soaring, so getting on a bus for a long drive was probably not the best use of caffeinated energy, but that was the order of things, so...
Our destination was World Relief's CREDIT offices, and from there we would drive to another village to see what that organization is doing there. (I'll tell you more about CREDIT later in the post). The drive there and then to the villages, completely overwhelmed me, both good and bad. To see allll the people, the traffic again and a great deal of poverty nonstop for miles...then to drive into the lush rural areas, only to see skinny cows (I could see their bones!) and young kids bathing in dirty water--overload.
Right before we were to cross the Mekong River, hoards of people were selling whatever they had to sell to the long line of vehicles waiting for the ferry. One person after another surrounded our bus, pleading us to buy from them: watches, sunglasses, fish, fruit, fried crickets...all kinds of snacks and goods. Young children tapped on the window and begged for money. Older kids held up younger kids, pointing to them and then to their mouths showing how hungry they were. It absolutely broke my heart. Not in a describable way either. It ushered in a great big bag of mixed emotions and questions (some of which I'm still processing).
We finally crossed the river, and it was disgusting. So dirty. Made me sad when I saw all the shacks on the side with laundry hanging out to dry, I'm sure after having been washed in that water. "Why is the water so dirty? And why can't someone clean it up?" I thought.
Then it was the same scene on the other side of the river with more desperate sales and pleas. (We even gave into one, which I'll tell you about in a bit). It exhausted my senses. I wanted to just stop the day right then, go back to my room and try to make some sense of things. But we'd only just begun.
After we got to the CREDIT offices, we were desperate for a restroom. Well, the staff was so incredibly courteous, and we were under a time restraint, so they led us all to different bathrooms. Unbeknownst to me, not all "bathrooms" are "restrooms" in Cambodia. I stood there, mouth gaping open, looking at this porcelain hole in the ground, and I thought, Okay, no way. I thought maybe he guided me to the men's room, but I later learned after some chuckles from a few teammates that this would be the norm when we were out and about, and I was ever so blessed to have a "squatty potty" this nice to behold. Luckily, by that time, the type of toilets I was accustomed to became available, so I took full advantage. That would at least give me some time to adjust to the thought of the other, seeing as it was a new concept for me. (I promise I'm not a prima-donna, just not very adventurous. As many would see this is a cool, adventurous thing to experience...me, not so much.)
From the offices on, the roads were too bumpy to reach the province we were visiting, so the team split into two trucks to face the terrain. The men on the team got in the back, and the staff would only allow the ladies inside the cab. So cheek over hip, we cooperated. Thank goodness, we are a close knit team! The roads were so rugged, we could not feel our bumpies or our legs after about halfway there. I'm sure the guys on the back got a good workout as well.
We finally reached the Prey Veng province and as we walked into the village, we were greeted with applause and cheering. Not because we were rock stars, but probably because they had been waiting on us to get the meeting started. (Not only that, it seemed to me that Cambodians are very hospitable). While they were incredibly good hosts to us, most kept their distance. I didn't find out until we were on our way home that we were the first Westerners most of them had ever seen. Lots of staring, looking, searching to see who we were, seemingly to see if we were trustworthy or not. I don't know. It was so unbearingly hot and sticky, mainly sticky, and it sapped the energy right out of us. The kids in the village were so shy, maybe even scared, but they seemed to enjoy the young ones, especially Matt (young college guy), and Victor, (our one youth traveling with us).
As we were leaving, it felt awkward. A few kids came up to me and started to talk. I thought they were finally warming up to me, because I had been smiling at them the whole time (the kids were so cute, I could hardly take my eyes off of them). Our interpreter told me later that they were hoping I'd give them money, understandably so, because begging is a way of life for many of them. CREDIT staff members told us that this is one of the issues they cover as they go into villages...training them not to beg from others, but to work and budget instead.
The drive back to the hotel was more of the same emotion, only with extreme drain...same scenes, different observations. I wanted to crash, as I felt like it was time to go to bed. But we still had one last stop for the day: Toul Sleng prison. I'll have to write about it tomorrow, because I'm too tired now. In just about 6 hours, it will be time to get up again, and that's when the work we came here to do will get started. I feel like so much has happened already. What else, Lord?"